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Commission concerns about Centrelink debt recovery program

Rights Rights and Freedoms
woman looking into her empty purse

The Australian Human Rights Commission has made a second submission on the human rights implications of the Centrelink debt recovery program (widely known as ‘Robodebt’).

In particular, the Commission warns about the potential to breach Article 9 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), to which Australia is a signatory.

Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow said, “Under Article 9 any ‘withdrawal, reduction or suspension’ of social security benefits has to be ‘based on grounds that are reasonable, subject to due process, and provided for in national law’.

“Any system that arbitrarily interferes with people’s social security entitlements would likely breach Article 9.”

The Commission raised concerns about the potential human rights implications of automating social services and administrative decision making on vulnerable or marginalised individuals.

In addition, the submission identifies how unlawful discrimination can arise through the use of automated decision-making systems.

‘We have seen how automated decision making can unfairly disadvantage people by reference to their race, gender or other protected attribute,’ Commissioner Santow said.

The Commission’s submission to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee raises similar issues to those identified in its submission to the inquiry into changing government service delivery models, including Centrelink’s debt recovery program, being conducted by the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.

You can read both the Commission’s submissions on the Centrelink debt recovery program here

A number of concerns with the Centrelink debt recovery program were also raised in submissions to the Commission’s Human Rights and Technology Issues Paper (July 2018). These included concerns about how debts are calculated by the algorithm and the information made available publicly regarding how a decision could be challenged or reviewed. You can read these submissions here.